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That Gut Feeling

Why intestinal health is so important

May 2024

Gut Bacteria (Photo Courtesy NIH Image Gallery via Flickr Creative Commons)

by Vanessa LaFaso Stolarski, Contributing Columnist

“I feel it in my gut.” “My gut is telling me this is bad.” “My gut instinct is to stay the course.”

Euphemisms like these have been echoed for decades, yet most of us overlook why we refer to our stomachs when talking about intense emotions.

The gut, often referred to as the “second brain,” plays a pivotal role in maintaining a delicate balance between beneficial and harmful bacteria, impacting digestion, immune response, mental health and disease prevention.

Understanding the importance of gut health is crucial for optimizing one’s health and quality of life. The gut microbiome is like a bustling city inside your belly, filled with trillions of tiny living creatures such as bacteria, viruses and fungi. These little residents help you digest your food, absorb important nutrients and keep you healthy. They work together to protect you from harmful germs, make nutrients your body needs, and even talk to your brain to help you feel happy and well.

Taking care of these friendly gut bugs is super important for keeping your tummy happy and your body strong. The gut-brain axis represents the intricate communication network between the gut and the brain. This bidirectional relationship highlights how the gut microbiome influences mood, cognition and behavior. Research has shown that the trillions of microbes in our gut communicate with the brain through various pathways, affecting emotions and mental well-being.


The gastrointestinal tract serves as the primary portal for processing nutrients essential for bodily functions. From digestion to nutrient absorption and waste elimination, the GI tract is vital for sustaining life-supporting nutrition. A healthy gut ensures nutrients are effectively absorbed and assimilated while waste is efficiently eliminated. Signs of poor gut health, such as heartburn, abdominal discomfort, constipation or diarrhea, indicate an imbalance that can lead to various health issues such as chronic inflammation, autoimmune disorders, mental health issues like depression and anxiety, weight management challenges, migraines, diabetes, insomnia and fatigue. Adopting lifestyle habits that support a diverse microbiome and promote overall well-being can help support a healthy gut.


Prebiotics are specialized plant fibers that “feed” beneficial bacteria in the gut, such as onions, dandelion greens, garlic, chicory root, green bananas, Jerusalem artichokes, whole oats and legumes.

Probiotics, on the other hand, add more residents to the population of your gut city. These include kefir, yogurt, cultured buttermilk, tempeh and fermented foods like miso, sauerkraut, kimchi and kombucha.


Engaging in stress-reducing activities like meditation and yoga can positively impact gut health.

Use antibiotics judiciously to preserve a healthy balance of gut bacteria. If an antibiotic regimen is unavoidable, consider adding the foods above when the prescription is complete.

Understanding the significance of maintaining a healthy gut microbiome through lifestyle choices like diet modifications and stress management practices can help optimize health outcomes and enhance quality of life.

Vanessa LaFaso Stolarski is a certified nutrition counselor, weightlifting coach, life coach and stress-management specialist.

All health-related content and media provided by Cooperative Living or its website(s) is created and published for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice and should not be relied on as health or personal advice. Always seek the guidance of your doctor or other qualified health professional with any questions you may have regarding your health or a medical condition.